Winter is fast approaching in many areas of the world, and that means icy road conditions. While it’s not always possible to stay one step ahead of Mother Nature, leveraging IoT (Internet of Things) technology to manage winter road conditions can help reduce traffic and traffic incidents by ensuring the proper amounts of salt get directed to various roads and highways. Simultaneously, this helps ensure too many resources aren’t directed to an area that doesn’t need them.

In the U.K., the 2016-2017 winter season brought a dramatic increase in “gritting orders” of salt to melt ice and snow on roads. A pilot project rolled out by the U.K.’s Amey and Hampshire County Council uses sensor technologies to measure environmental parameters, including road surface temperatures, along a high-priority gritting route in the Winchester area and then communicate this data back to an analytic platform.

The project leverages an existing network of connected streetlights from Mayflower Smart Control, www.mayflowercontrol.com, a solution provider for the management of exterior lighting and related equipment. When the council approached Mayflower about wanting to deploy a smart road-condition management solution, Mayflower turned to the Waspmote Plug & Sense! Sensor Platform by Libelium, www.libelium.com, to turn streetlights into weather stations that can help authorities make more informed decisions about gritting needs.

Muhammad Ali, senior product development engineer for Mayflower, says the pilot project’s particular aim was to “demonstrate immediate operational benefit and savings from being able to safely make a go or no-go decision in marginal situations by giving the winter services decisionmakers a richer data set.” While the data collected during the 2016-2017 winter season was not used for decisionmaking purposes, Ali says it will be analyzed and, based on the results, it will then be used this upcoming winter.

The anticipated ROI (return on investment) will include tangible cost savings, such as reducing the amount of salt used unnecessarily and eliminating wasted man-hours, as well as intangible benefits, such as reducing the local authority’s carbon footprint thanks to fewer unneeded gritters out on the road and, potentially, fewer traffic accidents due to unsafe road conditions. The IoT can deliver realtime data—in this case, environmental conditions for the purposes of road-condition management—that can be used to make informed decisions. The alternative is using historical data, which is not necessarily helpful for winters that break the mold. If the pilot successfully proves value for Winchester-area roads, it could also open doors to future connected solutions.

“Considering the IoT and smart cities agenda is currently a hot topic for city managers, this initiative could assist them in several different approaches to plan and operate much more efficiently and effectively,” Ali says. “The data could also benefit the scientific community by helping them analyze the weather changes as air temperature and humidity information is reported. This application no longer remains as a silo just for looking at road-monitoring solutions.”

Challenge: Design a pilot program to better manage winter services, such as gritting, based on dynamic environmental data, rather than static historical data.

Risk: Not being able to demonstrate immediate operational benefits/savings.

Solution:  Wireless sensor networks monitor road surface temperatures and weather on gritting routes, enabling better, more informed decisions.

Payoff: Cost reduction in terms of cutting back on salt, reducing the local authority’s carbon footprint, and saving up to three days per year in man-hours.